Two Augusta area school systems are creating the college experience for a select group of high school students next school year.
Aiken County Public Schools held an informational meeting last week for its new Aiken Scholars Academy at University of South Carolina Aiken, which will allow students to earn college credit while enrolled in high school. In Richmond County, Superintendent Angela Pringle signed a memorandum of understanding last month to begin a partnership with Aiken Technical College for the Cyber Academy of Excellence, a program that will expose students to a cybersecurity high school curriculum and allow them to work toward a cybersecurity associate’s degree or certificate program.
Across the Savannah River, Superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle signed a memorandum of understanding at the Nov. 14 board of education meeting with Augusta Technical College to commence their partnership for the Cyber Academy of Excellence. This program will expose students to a cybersecurity high school curriculum and allow them to work toward a cybersecurity associate’s degree or certificate programs.
The programs in both counties are free to students.
The Aiken Scholars Academy is currently accepting applications to form its first group of 50 freshman for the 2018-2019 school year. The selected group will meet over the summer to decide several things about the early stages of the school including school colors, the mascot, school clubs and more.
The first two years, students will take on accelerated high school course work, according to Aiken County superintendent Dr. Sean Alford, with the junior and senior years allowing students to focus on their passions and pursue college course work.
“We cannot release them into this course work until they are prepared,” Alford said. “This is the real deal when we get here.”
The group will complete their high school course work at the Ruth Patrick Science Center on the USCA campus and junior and senior course work will be completed throughout the campus. After school activities and athletics will also be available to students at their regularly zoned schools. Alford said the first group of students will discuss clubs and organizations this summer among the group of students.
Parents will be able to drop off students at the university and students with a driver’s license may drive themselves. Once the 50 students are selected, a hub station will be selected to provide transportation to students who need it.
Alford pointed out that a program like this can create incredible opportunities for students. Sixteen-year-old Kira Atkins completed her high school and college credits while attending Academic Magnet School in North Charleston and was recently accepted into the the pharmacy graduate program at the Medical University of South Carolina. She will begin next August.
“If this can happen in Charleston, why can’t it happen in Aiken?” Alford said.
College credit opportunities are available to Richmond County students as well. Those who apply and are accepted at the Cyber Academy of Excellence will complete English, math, science and social studies courses at Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School and then complete college-level classes at Augusta Tech. Twenty-five to 30 freshman students will be selected to begin in fall 2018.
Terry Elam, president of Augusta Tech, said that students have been participating in different programs of study at the college for many years through dual enrollment, also known as Move On When Ready in the state of Georgia.
Move On When Ready is available to Columbia and Richmond County students seeking any college degree or certificate. Students attend their regularly zoned schools for high school courses and complete college courses offsite. The Cyber Academy of Excellence will give students who are specifically interested in cybersecurity the opportunity to complete course work together.
“We felt like we needed to step out a little bit more and do a little bit more so that our students can be prepared for all of these jobs that are coming here with cyber,” Nanette Barnes, director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, said.
With thousands of jobs expected in the cyber field in the Augusta area over the next few years, Barnes and the board of education agree that cyber is a career to cultivate now.
“We feel that this is creating an opportunity for our students to get post-secondary credentials as well as being more marketable in our area,” she said. “We say all the time that we want to grow our own and maintain and keep our own here and we feel this is the best way we can do that.”
Barnes said the school system will continue to “tweak” the program as it is expected to grow and will monitor students and mentor them. Students will be able to participate in athletic activities at their regularly zoned schools, according to Dr. Debbie Alexander, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and Technology. Details regarding transportation and meals will be determined based on the first group of students who enroll.
“College classes won’t be every day, and any time the student is at RCTCM, they will still have access to breakfast and lunch as usual,” Alexander said.
Applications for the Aiken Scholars Academy can be found at acpsd.net and applications for Richmond County’s Cyber Academy of Excellence can be found at rcboe.org. Applications for both schools are open to eighth grade students only.